The whipping Boy~PART 2

Part II

Like a performing dog Tom leapt to his feet, almost knocking over the chair in his haste.

“So …” Suddenly the atmosphere in the snug little scullery seemed oppressively hot as the elegant – and frightening – woman paced around him in a circle, regarding him with a calculating, appraising eye. Tom stared rigidly ahead, trying to emulate the soldiers he saw on guard duty at the palace every day. Although frightened he felt a certain fascination at the rustle of the woman’s full skirt; the rosewater scent of her perfume in his nostrils …

“Yes, quite a resemblance …” she murmured, speaking almost to herself before addressing him. “You’re a fine-looking lad, no doubt. Broken a few hearts at the palace already I’m sure, eh?”

“N-No, Mistress.”

“Come now, no need to be bashful. You need not fear on that score at least, my boy, for I am not some outraged mother or aunt.” The smile vanished abruptly and Mistress Gwendolyn became businesslike indeed as she turned to face him. “Now to the purpose of our discussion.” She resumed her pacing while Tom stood stupidly to attention and he guessed this was how she preferred to think, to marshal her thoughts.

“Might it take long, my lady? It’s just that at five of the clock I to be at dice with the Prince.”

“And what time is it now?” She titled her head of auburn ringlets to cock an ear. In this age people gauged the passing of the day either by means of a communal clock (which only had an hour hand) or through the beats of the drum that were omnipresent within the palace precincts. “Four of the o’clock, by my reckoning. Adequate for our deliberations, young Tom. Mayhap it is the Prince we need to discuss.”

Oddly enough his focus switched to the parcel of wooden items she had placed on the table. What could be their purpose? His sense of foreboding lengthened along with the shadows outside the leaded windows.

“Being a loyal subject of Our Majesty you will doubtless know what is meant by ‘the Divine Right’?”

Tom struggled to remember what he had learned in the village school and from the rough and ready indoctrination into palace life given by the seneschal and the steward in charge of the young male servants. He shifted his weight from one leg to the other nervously. The trouble was that none of that really helped; the education of the time being brutal and aimed at knocking the learning into its pupils. Even so, being possessed of a certain native wit, he attempted an answer.

“The King – Our Majesty – is God’s anointed on Earth. He rules us by holy writ.”

“That he does!” Mistress Gwendolyn clapped her beringed fingers together in delight at such unexpected erudition.” Those extraordinarily black eyes with their gold-flecked irises bored into his. “The King’s rule is ordained in heaven. He is God’s representative on Erath. For a commoner to touch the Royal person with ill-intent is high treason. Any you know what happens to traitors don’t you, boy?”

Tom nodded dumbly. The disloyal, or rather their constituent parts, were nailed to Traitor’s Gate for all the world to see. From a mouth that suddenly felt parched he managed to mumble, “Surely my lady cannot think – 

 Of course not, gamphrel!” She waved him into silence. “Be quiet and listen. Surely you can appreciate our little dilemma in relation to his children – most particularly the Prince?”

Tom’s face clouded in befuddlement and Mistress Gwendolyn rolled her eyes before resuming her pacing, shoes muffled by the reeds carpeting the floor. “When you were slow in your studies at your village school, what would your tutor do?”

“The schoolmarm would beat us, Mistress.” He shuddered at the memory. That worthy had been a terrifying little old woman who believed in sparing neither the rod nor her young charges.

“Quite. If the King is God’s anointed then so is his son. And if the Prince is also a divine being, how – when he is lazy, or foolish, or badly behaved – may he be chastised by his tutors?”

“He cannot, because to a lay a finger upon his person would be treason.”

 “Mirabile dictu! Exactly. And now you do enter our little drama. All the world is s stage and we must play our part upon it.”

Tom’s jaw dropped at the sudden realisation. “You mean !”

“Yes! We cannot beat him. But we can beat you!”